Juddmonte Farms' Bobby Frankel-trained Empire Maker entered the Sham Stakes with the lofty reputation, based mainly on his striking pedigree and his connections. The son of Unbridled is a half-brother of Chester House and Honest Lady (among other stakes winner produced by Toussaud) and Empire Maker is on virtually every expert's short list of Kentucky Derby prospects.
But as the dust settled on the Santa Anita homestretch Friday evening following the third renewal of the 1 1/8-mile Sham Stakes, a new horse emerged on the Triple Crown scene and Empire Maker had still yet to win a stakes race.
Man Among Men tracked the early leaders, rallied on the second turn to gain the lead, then easily held off heavily favored Empire Maker in the stretch to win the restricted $81,000 Sham Stakes by a length. Under Alex Solis, the 3-year-old son of Gentlemen completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.39 on a fast track.
Man Among Men bumped with Ten Most Wanted a couple of strides out of the gate, after Ten Most Wanted was bumped by Truckle Feature at the start. Man Among Men settled in early behind pacesetter Truckle Feature and Ten Most Wanted. Empire Maker raced toward the back of the pack early while saving ground under Jerry Bailey. As Ten Most Wanted moved up to challenge Truckle Feature as they turned for home, Man Among Men moved up while three wide and the chestnut colt burst to the lead. Empire Maker and Spensive put in mild bids in the stretch to finish second and third, with Ten Most Wanted fourth. Pine for Java, Truckle Feature and Storm Gulch completed the order of finish.
Empire Maker, making his sophomore debut Friday, rallied along the rail on the backstretch to reach contention, then split horses in the stretch. The Remsen Stakes (gr. II) third-place finisher ran on well through the stretch to earn the Eqibase chart comment "finished with interest."
"He's physically fit, but he's not real razor-sharp mentally yet," said Bailey. "This was only his third race and he hadn't run in a while. Considering all that, he ran a good race."
Man Among Men earned $48,600 for the win, his third in five career starts and second in a restricted stakes race. He followed up on his 5 1/2-length maiden win with a head-length victory over Bobby Frankel-trained Peace Rules in the Pinjara Stakes. He concluded his juvenile season with a fourth-place finish in November's Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT), which was won by Peace Rules. The Gary Mandella trainee was making his first start of the year Friday. The R. D. Hubbard and Connie Sczesny homebred was produced from the Nikos mare La Favorita.
"He handled the dirt good even though he hadn't been on it for a while," said Solis. "Gary (Mandella) has done a good job getting him used to having dirt kicked in his face. He beat a few good horses and was giving them weight. I like the fact he's already won at a mile and an eighth, the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) distance. Being by Gentlemen, he should be good on dirt or turf."
Mandella isn't sure where Man Among Men will race next, but mentioned the San Felipe, Louisiana Derby, and El Camino Real Derby as possibilities.
Sent off a 9-1, Man Among Men paid $20.20, $4.60 and $2.10. 2-5 favorite Empire Maker paid $2.40 and $2.10 and completed the $1 exacta worth $22.20. Spensive was worth $2.10 to show. (Chart, Equibase